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How To: The Fundamentals of Mulch Installation

Follow these basic steps to ensure that mulch is installed properly.

Fall is here, which means that it is time to start thinking about mulch. Yes, it’s true: checking your mulch is important in BOTH the spring and the fall. The green sprouts and fragrant blossoms of spring are great motivators to get your yard, and your mulch, in tip-top shape. Tending mulch in the fall, though, is also essential to a tree’s health.

Mulch provides many benefits for trees and shrubs. It keeps the soil cool, helps retain moisture, provides nutrients, helps keeps mowers/string trimmers away from the trunk, and it looks nice. Most importantly, it breaks down into organic matter over time, which improves the soil and creates a healthier growing environment for the tree. However, it is essential that mulch is properly installed; otherwise, it can harm trees.

Proper mulching is done as follows:

Mulch Depth

  • Mulch should be maintained at a depth of approximately 2-4 inches. In the spring and fall, check the thickness of the mulch around your trees. If more mulch is needed, add more.
  • Whether you add more or not, use a potato fork to carefully turn over and break up the mulch. This prevents the mulch from becoming hydrophobic, which can prevent the tree from receiving water.

Mulch Area

  • If possible, the mulch should extend out to the dripline of the canopy. If that is not possible, the mulch should extend from the trunk to at least 3 feet or 3 times the diameter of the trunk, whichever is greater.
  • Keep all mulch and soil 2-3 inches away from the base of the trunk. If mulch has washed closer, use a rake to pull it back carefully. The base of the trunk must never become covered.

Other Considerations

  • Don’t use a weed fabric under your mulch. This inhibits gas exchange and prevents water from reaching the roots, which can be deadly to the plant. It also prevents the nutrients from the composted mulch from getting to the soil closest to the tree roots.
  • Don’t use dyed mulch. It might look nice, but it adds unnecessary contaminants to the soil. To keep mulch looking fresh, follow the steps above.
  • The process of cutting into the ground around mulch rings (called "edging") damages tree roots and must be avoided. Annual cuts into the roots can cause decay, leading to disease and death. It is better to merely shape the beds using mulch without edging.

Overall mulch is a low maintenance and affordable way to keep your trees and shrubs healthy all year round. Just follow these installation steps and observe for any changes.

Have any specific mulching questions? Have a tip we haven’t listed here? Send us a message. We love to hear how you are keeping your trees healthy and happy.

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